Though Paramount released a barebones Blu-ray of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood back in 2015, Criterion’s newly released Blu-ray, with a new 2K digital transfer supervised by Linklater himself and an impressive selection of extras about the film, is well worth the double-dip.

Filmed over a twelve-year period using the same cast, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is impossible to discuss without at least mentioning how it was completed. This wasn’t a case of special effects wizardry. Instead, the cast and crew gathered annually to film for several days, and then resumed their lives, and other projects. This technique has been used in documentaries, most famously in Michael Apted’s Up Series—which has followed the lives of fourteen British children since 1964, when they were seven years old—but no fictional film has attempted this approach. While it could have been a gimmick, Linklater and his cast have done a wonderful job of creating a beautiful, and unique coming of age story.

Fans of Linklater’s Before trilogy are already aware of his fascination with the passage of time. Here, he takes it a step further, chronicling the life of one boy from age six to age eighteen, allowing us to watch as lead actor Ellar Coltrane literally grows up before our eyes. While Coltrane is clearly the main character, Linklater wisely keeps his parents and older sister firmly in focus, making Boyhood not just about a young man’s coming of age, but an entire family’s evolution over a dozen years.

As the story begins, six-year-old Mason (Coltrane) is living in a small town in East Texas, with his older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), and his single mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette), who is struggling to find her financial footing. Olivia decides to move the family to Houston, so she can attend college, and get a job. The move results in occasional visits from the kids estranged dad Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke), who acts like little more than a kid himself. He takes them out to do fun stuff though, almost acting as an antidote to their mom, who is the disciplinarian, and deals with the tough stuff.

Olivia certainly struggles with the lack of a real father figure in her children’s lives. As the years pass, Olivia moves around Texas, engaging in marriages to men who eventually develop into full blown alcoholics, and with it, their propensity for abuse. Despite all of this, Olivia does manage to get her master’s degree and become a professor.

Without a stable male figure in his life, Mason is left clinging to the few hours here and there, he gets to spend with his father. During all this, Mason must deal with the usual challenges of growing up: school, peer pressure, and girls. We see his life begin to take shape. Even though there are a few bumps along the way, Mason is basically a good kid as he makes his way toward high school graduation.

Even Mason’s father goes through a maturation of his own, evolving from a man tearing around in a sports car without seatbelts, to a family man with a minivan and devout Christian in-laws. While Hawke’s participation is limited (the kids go for long stretches without seeing him), his work is impressive, and he seems to have genuine chemistry with both Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater. Hawke makes his character’s evolution so believable, it’s almost as if, in a sense, father and son are growing up together.

For Olivia, the end of the film results in a realization. After devoting most of her life to her kids, she is losing them to the bigger world. It’s a bittersweet moment, really. As she sees it, the only milestone she has left is her funeral. If Boyhood has a core theme, perhaps it’s that coming of age isn’t necessarily a process marked by big events, but a series of smaller ones that happen on a day-to-day basis.

Richard Linklater has created something special here. He shown the maturation, and emotional development of children onscreen, never once attempting to over dramatize or simplify the events on screen.

Patricia Arquette took home an Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role for her work in this film.

Cited as a, “New 2K digital transfer, supervised by director Richard Linklater,” Criterion’s 1080p transfer looks stunning. Boyhood was shot on 35mm in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. As such, the image quality appears realistic throughout and the color palette is true and natural. Detail is strong and depth is stable and impressive. There are no issues to speak of here, Criterion has delivered the pristine and impressive looking transfer fans would expect.

Criterion’s DTS-HD Master 5.1 surround track does an excellent job of handling the material. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout, while other everyday sounds are given nice separation without taking over the entire soundstage. The several well-known songs sprinkled throughout—including Coldplay’s Yellow, Sheryl Crow’s Soak Up the Sun, Lady Gaga’s Lovegame and more—sound superb.

English SDH subtitles are included.

The following extras are available:

Blu-ray Disc One:

  • Audio Commentary: Recorded exclusively for Criterion in 2015, this commentary features director Richard Linklater, producer Cathleen Sutherland, editor Sandra Adair, co-producer and first assistant director Vince Palmo Jr., production designer Rodney Becker, costume designer Kari Perkins, casting director Beth Sepko-Lindsey, and actors Marco Perella, Libby Villari, and Andrew Villarreal. Much of the discussion relates to the film’s unusual production style, how and where different sections were filmed, the core relationships in the film and more.

Blu-ray Disc Two:

  • Twelve Years (HD, 49:28) Produced exclusively for Criterion in 2015, this documentary delves into the unusual production history of the film. Director Richard Linklater and various cast and crew discuss their work on the project, issues while filming, how their lives changed through the years and more.
  • Memories of the Present (HD, 57:35) Recorded in Austin, Texas in December 2015, this conversation moderated by producer John Pierson, features director Richard Linklater and actors Patricia Arquette and Ellar Coltrane. They discuss the filming of Boyhood, what they hoped to achieve with the film, critical reaction to it and more.
  • Always Now (HD, 30:10) Filmed in New York City in December 2015, actors Ethan Hawke and Ellar Coltrane explain why Boyhood was an extremely challenging project, how the story evolved through the years and more.
  • Time of Your Life (HD, 12:29) Produced exclusively for Criterion in 2015, this visual essay by Michael Koresky and narrated by actor Ellar Coltrane, looks at the use of time in Linklater’s films.
  • Through the Years (HD, 23:39) On set pictures of the cast and crew taken by photographer Matt Lankes, narrated with personal thoughts from Linklater, Arquette, Hawke, Coltrane, and producer Cathleen Sutherland.
  • Booklet: Illustrated booklet featuring an essay by novelist Jonathan Lethem.

Boyhood (2014)
4.4 Reviewer